Harambe, Parenting, and Being in Control: Reflections on Human Limitations

May 31, 2016

The internet has been exploding with heated rage over the past weekend, from all sides and angles, over the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo, where the male lowland silverback gorilla, Harambe, was shot and killed to preserve the life of a 4-year-old boy who managed to get inside the exhibit.

 

 

Here's what we know to be absolutely true and where there seems to be agreement from everyone:
 

1) A 4-year-old boy managed to get past zoo barriers and into the gorilla exhibit.

 

2) He was in the exhibit with 400-pound gorilla, Harambe, for about 10 minutes.  A cell phone video shows Harambe standing over or in front of the boy at different times and dragging him through the moat.

 

3) The zoo staff determined that, for the best chance of safety for the child, putting Harambe down was a better call than using a tranquilizer.

 

4) Once the child was rescued from the exhibit, he was assessed at a nearby hospital and released shortly after with minor injuries.  People are thankful that the boy is alive and well.

 

5) Harambe was killed, and people are sad that this event ended with his untimely death.

 

 

If we are all honest with ourselves, all the details in between those facts are simply a wide mix of hearsay, subjectivity, or completely unknown information. There have been many questions asked following this event (some of which have been answered by various involved witnesses and uninvolved commentators, but may or may not contain all or accurate information), such as:

 

Where were the boy's parents?

 

How long did it take for the mom to realize her son was gone?

 

Were the boy's actions accidental or planned?

 

Did anyone else see the boy climb into the exhibit?

 

Why didn't anyone try to stop the boy?

 

Why not use a tranquilizer instead of shooting the gorilla?

 

What do the zoo staff and directors think?

 

Should the parents be charged for neglect or should they be shown compassion for a common parenting mistake?

 

The truth is, the answers to these questions either simply cannot be known for sure, or are completely speculative.  

 

Everyone has their own experiences, value systems, and opinions. It is highly unlikely we will ever know the FULL story of what and how this all happened, and even more unlikely that people will come to any unanimous decision on how this could have been prevented or handled differently.

 

The "I would never..." and "I would have..." statements are, quite frankly, hypothetical. We like to think the best of ourselves, believe that we would know how things would unfold ahead of time, and that we can plan for and prevent all tragedy...

 

There are certainly proactive steps we can take to decrease the chances of bad things happening. But we are only kidding ourselves when we believe we have it all figured out

 

We are human -- with many, many limitations.

 

Realizing this can be so unsettling.

But such is life.

 

It's probable that most parents can agree that children are curious, adventurous, unpredictable, and often fast and sneaky, too - and they're good at getting away if they're not being supervised carefully.

 

But it's probable that most parents can also agree that while, yes, we should keep a close eye on our children, literally watching each of your children every moment of the day is simply not possible -- and even carefully supervised children have a way of escaping our sight from time to time.

 

So besides trying to figure out what the best call for Harambe was, or if the blame should rest on the parents, the zoo, the boy, or any combination of factors (and admitting that most of us are not experts on tranquilizers or gorillas, and that it's really not our place to say what should be done to the parents as retribution, if anything)... what can we do?

 

I have two ideas:

 

1) We can reflect on ourselves.

 

We sometimes like to think we have the ability to control other people; or think that we have supreme authority to call the shots; or that our definition of justice is the right one; or that our way of parenting is the best.

 

But in the end, we are only responsible for and in control of ourselves. The best we can do is let go of and make peace with what and who we can't control, even when we don't like the outcomes of that.

 

2) We can learn and grow from this incident.

 

It's unlikely that we would need to think too long about how to specifically avoid this kind of scenario, as such a thing seems to be quite rare.  But what happened at this zoo has given us an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of dialoguing with our children that there are consequences to our choices.

 

Ask them thought-provoking questions; encourage them to think about how our actions affect both ourselves and others; and remind them that the rules we create for them are made out of love and protection for them.  These things of course don't guarantee perfect children or that terrible things won't happen, but it could certainly aid in children learning self-control and consideration for others.

Wherever your thoughts and feelings fall concerning this incident, I believe your opinion and perspective matters.  Agreement is not a requirement to respect and honor the people around you.

 

I hope that as we continue to celebrate the saved life of this boy, and grieve the death of this beloved gorilla, that we can still come together and support each other as parents and fellow humans, knowing full-well that we ALL fail and need a little help sometimes.

 

 

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